Bruce Schneier has an excellent blog piece entitled Policy Repercussions of the Paris Terrorist Attacks (which I have only just come across) that is the usual breath of fresh air about terrorism, security, and surveillance.
The politics of surveillance are the politics of fear. As long as the people are afraid of terrorism — regardless of how realistic their fears are — they will demand that the government keep them safe. And if the government can convince them that it needs this or that power in order to keep the people safe, the people will willingly grant them those powers.
In short, governments use fear as a justification to acquire more intrusive powers.
It doesn’t matter that mass surveillance isn’t an effective anti-terrorist tool: a scared populace wants to be reassured.
That point is worth emphasizing, too. For example, there already was surveillance operating before the Paris terror attacks. Increasing it wouldn’t have increased the chances of preventing the attacks. Mass surveillance does not work in this arena. It does work in terms of keeping tabs on your political opponents…
So far as the opportunities and politicians are concerned, Schenier writes:
And politicians want to reassure. It’s smart politics to exaggerate the threat. It’s smart politics to do something, even if that something isn’t effective at mitigating the threat. The surveillance apparatus has the ear of the politicians, and the primary tool in its box is more surveillance. There’s minimal political will to push back on those ideas, especially when people are scared…
…Terrorism is singularly designed to push our fear buttons in ways completely out of proportion to the actual threat. And as long as people are scared of terrorism, they’ll give their governments all sorts of new powers of surveillance, arrest, detention, and so on, regardless of whether those powers actually combat the threat. This means that those who want those powers need a steady stream of terrorist attacks to enact their agenda. It’s not that these people are actively rooting for the terrorists, but they know a good opportunity when they see it.
So, even though it does not work, the politicians are going to keep trying to secure more surveillance and other intrusive powers.
Do read the whole post (which includes some excellent links to other material on the same issues) here.